Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Television, Best of 2011

I think almost everyone can agree that television has surpassed films, especially where storytelling is concerned.  Visually, films may have an edge on television, but not by much.

That being said, I've found myself more moved by episodic television than by movies.  When it's time to hunker down and choose whether I want to watch a movie or a show, nine times out of ten it's going to be television.  The stories are allowed to be bigger, more intricate with the added time to develop.  They can immerse the viewer in a world far more intoxicating than the 90 - 120 minutes that a film has to build its world.  Film is a directors medium, television is a writers medium.

I've never done this before, but I thought I would make a personal list of the triumphs and tragedies I've found during my journey through television in 2011.  This is by no means comprehensive, and their are many great shows that I just didn't get time to watch.  So take this with a grain of salt.

Best Television of 2011:

7.  Wilfred - FX

This FX series is based on the Australian show of the same name.  Elijah Wood plays Ryan, a suicidal guy who tries several times to kill himself, but is interrupted by his neighbor Jenna who asks Ryan if he would watch her dog Wilfred for the day.  He agrees, and he finds himself dumbfounded when Wilfred seems to be an Australian man in a dog costume, that everyone else sees as a normal dog.

I know, it sounds like it could be terrible, but it was one of the best new comedies I've seen in a really long time.  Imagine Tyler Durden as a dog who always gets you into trouble and loves to smoke pot, and you almost have the tone of the show.  It had me laughing like crazy, had a cliffhanger ending, and has me jonesing for the second season.

6.  Louie - FX

Louis C.K. is probably the funniest comedian of our day.  So knowing that he has complete creative control over every aspect of this show should be enough to get everyone turning on their televisions.  If you've never heard of Louis, pull your head out of the sand and look around.  He's everywhere.

The show is not afraid to take on controversial topics like suicide, religion, and masturbation.  Each season has been a perfect balance of hilarity and seriousness, and it's truly a sin that this man has not won a Golden Globe or Emmy.

5.  The Chicago Code - Fox

Fox has a penchant for cancelling some of their very best shows, which is a pity.  This is no different.  

The Chicago Code was created by Shawn Ryan, the same guy behind the masterful FX show The Shield, and centers on the first female Chicago police superintendent (Jennifer Beals) and a veteran police detective (Jason Clarke) trying to take down a corrupt city Alderman (Delroy Lindo).

Ryan took what could have been a typical cop show, and turned it into a gripping and entertaining cat and mouse game.  Though it only got 13 episodes before Fox cancelled it to make way for Terra Nova (idiots), it does have a satisfying conclusion and is well worth checking out.

4.  Boardwalk Empire - HBO

Boardwalk Empire is a thrilling entrance into the boom of organized crime during the prohibition era. The second season takes the epic storytelling one step further, dragging all of the characters through the coals of a modernized Greek tragedy.

Showcasing some amazing performances, we get to see the characters peeled back layer after layer, while the tension increases more and more until it culminates in an explosive finale.  HBO has always been a home for amazing storytelling, but they've outdone themselves with Boardwalk Empire.  It's violent, gritty, and sexy all at the same time.  If you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and catch up before season 3 begins.

3.  American Horror Story - FX

American Horror Story was created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk who started working together on Nip/Tuck (and created Glee).  It centers on the Harmon Family, who have marital problems even before they move into a haunted mansion bought at a discount price, which happens to be occupied by its former residents.  It's bizarre, creepy, and delightful.  It stars Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, a bunch of ghosts, and an amazong turn by Jessica Lange.  At one point I didn't think they'd be able to tie all the narrative strings together by the end of the season, but they did and in an amazing way.

After a second season was ordered, it was announced that each season would be in a different house and have a whole new set of characters.  Tricky concept, but I hope to God they can pull it off.  Tim Minear is one of the writers and producers on the show, and he's had his hands in a lot of really amazing shows, so I think they'll be just fine.

2.  Homeland - Showtime

I came to this show late, but my wife and I cruised through the whole season in four days.  It was that good.  Claire Danes plays Carrie, a CIA counter terrorism operative who's been warned that an American POW has been turned by Al-Qaeda.  When a Marine (Damian Lewis) who'd been held captive for eight years is rescued during a Delta Force raid and returned home, she's convinced that he's the guy.  For the entire series Carrie and the viewer, go back and forth on whether he has or hasn't been turned.

One thing that complicates things, is Carrie also secretly suffers with bi-polar disorder, which effects her ability to do her job.  Mandy Patinkin

1.  Breaking Bad - AMC

There isn't a show on television that can even touch this show.  Vince Gilligan and his writing stable of geniuses have created the darkest, most twisted, and brilliant show I've ever seen.  The season finale, with the way they wove all of the narrative threads back on itself is itself, is something that should be studied.  Television doesn't get any better.

Brian Cranston plays Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher that gets cancer, and turns to making meth with former student Jesse (Aaron Paul) to provide for his family when he's dead.

This season finds Walt and Jesse working for Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), the local drug kingpin, who's in the midst of a power struggle with the Mexican Cartel, and also trying to put a wedge between Jesse and Walt.  He wants to pit them against each other to get rid of Walt, while keeping Jesse under his thumb.  Walter is in panic mode with his life on the line, and has to come up with some way to get them out of this mess.

I won't ruin the ending, but it was spectacular.  If you watch this show and don't like it, you're an idiot.

What were your favorites?

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